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Lower Risk of Breast Cancer with 5 Healthy Changes

Hillcrest South dietitian Stephanie Harris, MS, RD/LD talks about healthy changes you can make today to help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.

In 2013, it is estimated that among U.S. women there will be 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that about one-quarter to one-third of the new cancer cases expected to occur in the US in 2013 will be related to overweight or obesity, physical inactivity, and poor nutrition, and thus could also be prevented. While some risk factors for breast cancer, such as age or family history, are not within our control, there are lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk. While no single meal pattern or food has been shown to specifically prevent breast cancer, there are some foods that can make your body the healthiest it can be, boost your immune system, and help keep your risk for breast cancer as low as possible.  Breast cancer prevention starts with healthy habits and here are five tips that may decrease your risk:

Control your weight

Studies on maintaining a healthy weight and lowering the risk of a first-time breast cancer suggest being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast cancer. This is especially true if obesity occurs later in life, particularly after menopause.  Why? Excess weight may lead to elevated levels of the hormone estrogen, which may be involved in the development of breast cancer.   Maintaining a healthy weight is important for prevention, but also especially important for breast cancer survivors. Researchers suggest weight gain after breast cancer diagnosis may increase the risk of overall and breast cancer-specific mortality in survivors.  

Exercise Regularly

There is convincing evidence that physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer.  In fact, some studies have shown women who are more active after breast cancer diagnoses have an increased chance of overall survival compared to less active women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults “engage in moderate-intensity physical activity for at least 30 minutes on five or more days of the week,” or “engage in vigorous-intensity physical activity for at least 20 minutes on three or more days of the week.”

Limit Alcohol

Studies show that above moderate intake (one or more drinks per day) consumption of alcohol is associated with increased risk of breast cancer. To minimize your risk, follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans which suggest no more than one alcoholic drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks for men.  (One serving =12 fluid ounces of beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine, or 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits)

Incorporate 5 Fruits and Vegetables a day

Consuming a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables provides an increased intake of phytonutrients and antioxidants - substances that help prevent cellular damage throughout the body. A 2010 meta-analysis of studies evaluating breast cancer risk reported that high consumption of a diet composed predominantly of fruits and vegetables resulted in a lower risk of breast cancer.

Monitor Fat intake

To date most research studies have shown no link between a high-fat diet in adulthood and an increased risk of breast cancer; however, dietary fat intake may still play a role in breast cancer. The type of fat, rather than the total amount of fat, may be important to breast cancer risk.  Some studies have shown a high intake of some types of fat, such as monounsaturated fat (found in olive and canola oils), may lower breast cancer risk.  In addition, sticking to a low-fat diet may help reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back. One study in which women got only about 25% of their daily calories from fat found a lower risk of recurrence.  More research is needed to confirm these findings.